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I ♥ Hippies

Admit it: they were right

By Richard von Busack

WHEN HE cocked his head to one side as if he had a mind of his own, it was impossible not to love him. Some saw only the rouge and the hair oil of the pampered actor, resuscitated with General Electric's money. Maybe he was a man so uninterested in the printed word that the idea of the "Reagan Library" is as oxymoronic as "giant shrimp" or "military justice." But when he ambled up to the microphone, his little eyes asparkle, his grin of self-amusement never faltering, the nation's press rolled over. As one critic put it, Reagan's election changed the United States from a nation to a show. It's been nothing but high Nielsens ever since!

I didn't watch a minute of the long-awaited burial. Instead I skulked off to Mendocino, where they don't watch TV. First, I spent three days at an undisclosed location with Reagan's long-lived nemeses—hippies—among the same redwood trees that Reagan claimed were all alike. Three days of stained-glass, hot springs and timber bamboo.

I followed that severe regime of mellowing with one day at the hippie-ridden Health and Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa. Loved every minute of it. I wandered around gaping at the New Age quacks, talked with a guy who was promoting composting terlits (the wave of the future, since we're due for a drought) and stepped guilty through a Goddess Temple, expecting to get zapped by a bolt of lightning. I watched some "healers" spin reclining patients around in this human-powered healing Tilt-a-Whirl. One hippie followed it on foot, serenading a passenger with soothing music from what looked like a shrunken Alpenhorn. I bought hemp socks that feel like cashmere. A fun day. A day I'd happily repeat. I love hippies.

I wanted to be one when I grew up. My hippie name was going to be Ocean. Too bad I was too mean and sneaky and polysyllabic to be a hippie. LSD told me all that. That was the instant before LSD told me, "Stop taking me right now, or I'll retrieve every shameful moment you've ever lived through and replay it for you. In freeze-frame, slow-mo and with a special feature that allows changes of angle, so that you can not only feel your own embarrassment but also experience the embarrassment of those around you." And then the marijuana and the incense gave me lung hives.

No group of people this side of the Mennonites could be less fashionable or more derided than hippies. Their "screaming bumper stickers" offended Dave Eggers. Their patchouli sets off sensory alarms. People call hippies quitters, but didn't they stick with it? They kept their style. And they're still up there! Keep driving north past Santa Rosa, and it's hippies galore, rubbing crystals and brewing their Mu tea. In September, they're going to all get together at Laytonville, and under the guidance of ex-Dead drummer Mickey Hart, they're going to assemble the Guinness-book-qualifying world's-largest drum circle.

In the spirit of commentator Gordon "Scotchy" Sinclair's tribute to Americans (still available at thrift-shop bins near you), a salute to hippies:

The hippies said too much meat was bad for you. They were right. No one listened until after Morgan Spurlock porked out on too many Big Macs. But the hippies were right anyway.

They said that the Vietnam War wasn't an aberration but one link in a chain of lethal U.S. policy that began with the liquidation of the Indians and would continue into the unseen future. They were right.

The hippies said that dependence on oil would tax the planet. They were right.

Punk rockers did everything they could to avoid being hippies. They wrote songs about how stupid hippies were and shaved themselves bald as an implicit protest against long hair. They ended up as bald-headed hippies with shorter songs. By reacting to the gravity of hippies by becoming anti-hippies, they proved the hippies were right, too.

The hippies drove New Yorkers nuts. Good for them.

The hippies said Ronald Reagan was not a kindly old gent, but an evil-hearted puppet. They were right.

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From the June 23-29, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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